As he’s done for decades, Henry Kissinger is again shuttling between the U.S. and China to defuse tensions, this time as President Xi Jinping tries to figure out how much of President-elect Donald Trump’s China-bashing will follow him to the White House.
The 93-year-old former secretary of state, who secretly brokered President Richard Nixon’s watershed visit in 1972, returned to Beijing to meet with state leaders, just two weeks after huddling with Trump in New York. While little about Kissinger’s closed-door talks has been disclosed, Chinese officials are trying to assess whether the incoming administration will prompt greater confrontation over trade and territory disputes, as Trump promised on the campaign trail.
On Thursday, Kissinger met with Wang Qishan, who oversees Xi’s signature anti-corruption campaign and ranks sixth in the Communist Party hierarchy, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Kissinger said that he hoped to contribute to the healthy development of U.S.-China relations, according to Xinhua.
Kissinger in Beijing in 2015 is warmly greeted by President Xi (Image by Wu Zhiyi / China Daily
Kissinger’s endurance as China’s preferred go-between more than four decades after leaving office highlights communication gaps between the world’s biggest economies even as their fates grow increasingly entwined. That’s particular acute in the wake of Trump’s shock election victory last month, which has sent U.S. allies and rivals alike scrambling to assess how the billionaire real estate developer plans manage diplomatic ties.
“It’s important for China and the U.S., with minimal mutual trust, to have an unofficial conduit to expand mutual interests and avoid miscalculation,” said Gao Zhikai, an interpreter to China’s late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping who has met frequently with Kissinger over the years. “Kissinger has a unique position in the relationship between the two major powers as a messenger.”
Whereas former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was a known quantity to China, Trump lacks a public service record for the country to evaluate. While campaigning, the Republican accused China of “raping” America of jobs, while vowing to levy tariffs on Beijing and label it a currency manipulator. He’s also pledged to add scores of ships to the U.S. Navy, which China could view as destabilizing should they end up in the Pacific, where the two sides have sparred over navigation rights.
Chinese leaders were expected to clarify their stance on major issues with Kissinger, with Xi telling Trump in a telephone call Nov. 14 that cooperation was the only correct choice for relations. The former secretary of state had several phone conversations with Trump before a face-to-face session in New York on Nov. 18.\
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